Shrewsbury EdTech

Tech resources for Shrewsbury Public School educators

1 Comment

iPad Workflow: PDF Expert and Explain Everything

I spent a lot of time this weekend trying to wrap my head around the best way of grading student work and pushing it back to them. While the original format of student work will vary (Pages, PDFs, etc.), I expect most of their final work will be shared back with me as a PDF through their Google Drive portfolio. The question then becomes, “How do I get their final assignment, grade it, and share it back with them?” We’ve been tackling this workflow issue for a few years now. I haven’t found any one perfect answer yet, and I welcome teachers to share their strategies. In the meantime, here are two workable ideas.

PDF Expert

I’ve written about this app before because it’s my favorite PDF annotating solution. You can read more about it here. You can add text, handwriting, shapes, underline, and even audio notes. It is expensive ($9.99), but it goes on sale a few times each year for 50% off. It’s similar to Notability but offers many more features. One of its best features is two-way syncing with Google Drive. What does that mean? It means you can use the app to mark up and grade student work found in a shared Google Drive folder. As soon as you’re done, it automatically updates that file in Google Drive…no need to “push it back” to students. Their original PDF now has your corrections.

There is a problem though! When students look at the corrected PDF with the Google drive app, your annotations do not appear! There is some problem with how the app renders PDFs.

A few workarounds to make your annotations visible…

  1. Students can open the PDF in a different app, such as Adobe Reader (they are not visible in Notability though).
  2. Students can access Google Drive through Safari instead of using the app. Whether they are in “mobile” or “desktop” mode, they will be able to see your comments.
  3. You could bypass the two-way syncing feature altogether. This addsphoto (3) an additional step unfortunately, but if you push the work back to their folder in Google Drive, you can choose to send it as a “flattened copy”. This protects your annotations and lets students view them from within the Google Drive app.

I contacted Readdle and asked if it was possible to send out “flattened copies” through two-way syncing. Unfortunately, it is not.

I’m not sure at this point, but I think I’m most likely going to use the two-way syncing. I’d rather every student do one extra step once to see my comments, rather than me do an extra step 90+ times.

Explain Everything

I read a book over the summer on the flipped classroom model. One of the suggestions that stood out to me was a teacher who used Explain Everything to grade work for her students. She made a recording of herself marking up her English papers. When she was finished, she rendered it as a video file and shared it with the student. This idea intrigued me for a few reasons:

  • It’s a creative way of using the iPad to give feedback.
  • Since you can record your voice while you correct, you could talk more and write less – possibly making the process quicker.
  • Students might have more incentive to listen to your comments. (We all know many of them glance over our written comments and just look for the grade.)

I’ve embedded a YouTube video below that I created to show how Explain Everything (EE) could be used to provide student feedback. EE is a fantastic app with a lot of possibilities. One big drawback is that it’s very time consuming to export a video file, whether it’s to YouTube, Google Drive, or even just camera roll. However, we are lucky because students also have EE. Therefore, it’s not necessary to export your presentation as a video. You can export it as a project file instead and save that file in the student’s Google Drive shared folder. This process takes only about ten seconds! Students would then need to open up the file in Explain Everything to watch what you created.

If you have used the iPad for giving student feedback, or if you have used Explain Everything as a teacher in your classroom, please leave a comment and share your ideas!


1 Comment

Looking for an easy way to collect digital work?

Many teachers have been flirting with some form of digital work in their classrooms.  This opens up creative possibilities – instead of a traditional report, some kids may create a Glogster poster, others a Museum Box, perhaps a screen cast… the possibilities are virtually endless (pun intended)!

As great as this is, it also can open up a book keeping nightmare — no more simple dropping of an assignment in a box — they can be anywhere on the web.  One kid tells you it’s posted on his wiki, another has hers in a dropbox… pretty soon you have no idea where half the items are, let alone a logical way to sit down and grade them while maintaining your sanity.

Enter the Assessment Collector.  (Thanks to Kern Kelly over at The Tech Curve – see his explanation for this handy creation here: 

This is a handy little Google Form.  When a student goes to this link, here’s what they see:

A simple form, where they enter their name, choose their period, and select the particular item they are turning in.

Once they do this, they copy and paste the link to whatever they have created.  Anything published on the web – or shared in a Google Drive – anything with a web address, can be turned in this way.

You adapt it as needed – add and remove new assignments when you need to (I allow students to submit work “for review” or “for a grade” depending on where we are in the process), so you can close a window when a deadline passes, and open a new one when needed.

How does it look on the teacher’s end?  Well, it has a few simple features.  It operates through a Google Form, as I noted, so it’s a tabbed spreadsheet when you look at it from the teacher’s end.

When you open it, here’s the first tab:

As you can see, it has basic directions right here.

Once on this page, you simply click Form -> edit form to change the items.

The form is brief and to the point.

Edit assignment options to change that pull down menu, and the period options to match your sections.

The next tab is the really helpful one – this is the Filter.

The two yellow boxes up top are pull-down menus – as students fill out the form, you can use this page to select a particular class group, and a particular assignment, so that you only see the group you wish to grade.

You then just click the link, open it in a new window, and score the assessment.

The ‘entry’ tab is where all the student responses go — this is what the filter is looking at.  As each student submits information, it appears here.  I sort this sheet by period or last name before I start grading, so that I can record my student scores alphabetically once I view them through the filter.

I also added a tab for ‘finished’ – once I grade some papers, I go to the “Entry” tab, and cut the ones I’ve graded, then paste them into the finished tab.  I then delete the empty rows from the Entry sheet.  Why? This accomplishes two things:
1.  When I go back to the filter, I only see the items I have left to grade.
2.  I have one tab with a record of everything each kid has submitted.  I can sort it by name, and see which students submit work for review, which ones get everything in on time, etc.

Interested in trying this out?  Go here to visit the form and then make a copy into your own Google Drive:

If you have any questions, or want to see a demo, let us know!

Per usual, you can revisit all of our tips at

Have an interesting tech idea you’d like us to promote?  Send us an email!

Until next time,



Annotating PDF documents on the iPad

One of the biggest benefits to using iPads in the classroom is moving toward a paperless classroom. In order to do this, we must find an alternative to having students write on paper worksheets or other graphic organizers. One of the easiest ways to do this is to have students annotate a PDF (Portable Document Format), then save that revised version on their iPad.

In most classrooms it looks something like this: 

1. Teacher makes a PDF of the worksheet/handout/graphic organizer. This can  be done by scanning the paper copy and saving it as a PDF file. If the handout is made in Microsoft Word, the file can be saved as a PDF file. (All of my class handouts are converted in this way.)

2. The PDF handout is made available to students. This can be done in numerous ways. Read our blog post on iPad workflow for more information on how to do this.

3. The student uses the “Open in…” function on the iPad to open the PDF document in an a particular app that lets them annotate and save the document. The most popular app being used for this purpose is Notability.

However, unlike most people, I am not a huge fan Notability. I gave it a shot earlier in the year and quickly began the search for alternatives. Notability does have more bells and whistles compared to other apps. However, the most important features I need my students to have is the ability annotate text (highlight, underline, cross out, etc.) and add both “hand written” and text notes. I’m not saying Notability can’t do these, it’s just not as easy. So, two possible alternatives to check out are Adobe Reader and PDF Expert.

Alternatives to Notability…

Adobe Reader (Free)

Adobe now offers an Adobe Reader mobile app for Android and iOS devices. It looks and acts much like the desktop version. 
File Management: 
All annotated files are saved in your main “Documents” folder. You can create additional folders (for different subjects) and subfolders (different units?) for your documents. You can also sign up for an account at that lets you sync files between different devices. 

Press down on a word, and you have the option to copy, highlight, strikeout, underline, or define the word. Once you highlight, strikeout, or underline, you can then change the color and opacity of your mark. 
Adding notes: 
Press down on an empty spot, and you have the option to add a note, typed text, freehand, or a signature. The “note” creates a sticky note, but all other types of notes can then be modified. You can delete the note or change the thickness, color, and opacity. Also, when you press on it a second time, a text box is created that can easily be resized or moved anywhere on the page. 

I know this may not sound any easier than Notability, but I have about ten students with iPads this year who also found Notability difficult to use. I had them use the Adobe Reader app, and they like it much more. Again, they aren’t doing anything fancy, just adding text to my science handouts.

PDF Expert ($9.99 but was on sale this week for $4.99)

I sent an email recently about Readdle having a sale for many of their apps. One of their apps, PDF Expert, is my absolute favorite app for editing PDFs. It has a lot of advanced features that justify the price.
File Management: 
Like Adobe Reader, files are saved in your “Documents”, and you can create folders and subfolders. Files can be sorted by name, date, and size. PDF Expert has some pretty cool syncing features as well. ou can add servers that give you access to documents in Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and more. There is also a two-way syncing feature so whatever changes you make in the app can be saved to your cloud storage account.  

Press down on a word, and you have the same options as Adobe Reader, plus the option to leave a sticky note with your highlight. Once you highlight, strikeout, or underline, you can then change the color (lots of options) but not the opacity of your mark. 
Adding notes: 
Press down on an empty spot to have the same features as Adobe Reader. Additional options include a “stamp”, image, or sound note. The stamp is digital stamp feature such as “Approved” or “Completed” which could come in handy for grading. The image note lets you add a picture using the iPad camera or Photo Library. The sound note is my favorite feature. Notability also has an audio feature at the top of the note, but PDF Expert creates an audio file anywhere on the page. How could this be handy? Imagine you have a student who is allowed to take tests orally, but with 30 kids in a class you just don’t have time to sit down with them. You could have them take the test on an iPad and record their answers orally by leaving an audio note for each question. It also includes an impressive suite of drawing tools that includes lines, arrows, and shapes. You can also change the pen color, thickness, and opacity.   

Other features:
Another cool feature in PDF Expert is the ability to have multiple tabs open for different documents. This makes it much easier and quicker to go back and forth between documents.

I know $10 is a lot to shell out for an app, but it really is worth it. Obviously, the district is not going to pay for all students to have this so I envision this being used by teachers while students use Notability or Adobe Reader. If you would like to experiment with it on my iPad, just let me know!


Adobe Reader: Getting Started Guide

PDF Expert Guide

1 Comment

iPad Work Flow: Pushing Files Out To Students

As Sherwood and Oak transform into true 1:1 iPad schools, one of the biggest obstacles continues to be “work flow”. Everyone wants to know the best way of making class handouts accessible to students so they can read and annotate them on an iPad. Some are also starting to collect student work, grade it, then pass it back again. We’ll cover how to do this last part in a future tech tip.

The good news is that there are numerous services that let you “push out” handouts and resources fairly easily to students. The bad news is that there is not a “one size fits all” answer. It really comes down to user preference. The best advice is to download a few of these and try them out. See which one you like…then go with it!

For those of you who attended one of the “iPad Work Flow” classes on Friday, Erica McMahon and I discussed the “big four” cloud storage companies: Evernote, Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive. The goal of the last three is all basically the same. They give you a place online to store materials where students can then access them. Evernote can do this as well, but it’s really quite different than the others. Erica created the slideshow below that gives a great overview of work flow and compares the four services. You can also download Erica’s original Keynote file here

Sharing files

Regardless of which cloud service you decide to use, you must pay attention to the sharing settings you use. There are always multiple sharing options that can be summarized by two main types: view and edit. When giving students access to your stuff, you want them to be able to view only! This means they can download files to view/annotate on the iPad. If you let them edit your stuff, they can then modify your documents or even worse, delete them. I will further explain sharing options for each service below.

You will usually be given a link to share with your students. When they click on this link, it will direct them to the files you want them to see. There are many different options of sharing this link with students. The link can be:

  • emailed (the district is working on class distribution lists)
  • posted on a website, blog, wiki, or social media site such as Facebook or Twitter
  • shortened using tinyurl or then written on the board
  • linked to with a QR code

Which cloud service is the best?

Again, there is no clear winner in the cloud service game. They all allow you to store files online. They all allow you to share files or entire “folders” with your students. I will provide more information for each one, plus give you some more information and suggest resources for Dropbox, Google Drive, and Evernote. I do not personally use Box, nor do I know many others who use it, so I won’t get too detailed with that one. 



When you install Dropbox on your computer, it puts a folder on your hard drive that acts just like any other folder on your computer. The only difference is that there are little green checkmarks next to each folder and file indicating that is has been synced. Once synced, these files can be accessed from any computer via the website or any smart phone if you have the app installed. 

Supported Platforms: 

  • Dropbox website
  • PC desktop client
  • Mac desktop client
  • iOS app (universal app for iPad and iPhone)
  • Android, Blackberry, and Kindle Fire apps

Free Storage

2 GB (but you can get more space by recommending friends, uploading photos, connecting your Facebook account, etc.) 

Max File Size: 

No limit!


Folders and files can be shared in two ways. From the Dropbox website or within your Dropbox folder, you can “share the link”. This will give you a link that you can share with others to give them access to your stuff. All students can do is view and download your files. 
The other option is “invite to folder” or “share folder”. This means you want to share your stuff with another Dropbox user. This gives them full access to your stuff. They can change or even delete your files. If you’re sharing documents with other teachers on your team, this may make sense. For anything you share with your students, you will want to share the link.


Dropbox blog
Dropbox help center — Sharing files and folders
Makeuseof: First Unofficial Guide to Dropbox



Box is similar to Dropbox, but not as good in my opinion. It does have some advantages over Dropbox including more free storage (5 GB compared to 2 GB) and Google Docs integration. However, it is missing one of the key components that makes Dropbox so easy to use. There is no desktop client for your computer (unless you upgrade to a paid version). In other words, it does not install a folder on your computer giving your “drag and drop” functionality. The free version also has a maximum file size of 100 MB whereas Dropbox has no file size limit. 

Google Drive


Google Drive is the reincarnation of Google Docs. It is clearly modeled after Dropbox and offers all of the same benefits including the installation of a Google Drive folder on your computer. The folder on your computer syncs ALL of your files, even online Google docs, spreadsheets, forms, and presentations. You must still edit them on the website, but organization is much easier now that you can see where everything is located. As of this posting, the iPad app also lets you edit Google Documents (without tables) with real time collaboration, just like the online version. Google spreadsheet and presentation editing is rumored to be coming soon.

Supported Platforms: 

Free Storage

5 GB (Extra space is very cheap as well. You can purchase another 25 GB of space for $30/yr)

Max File Size: 

10 GB (which is larger than the amount of free space you get)


Click to enlarge

Google makes sharing easy. You can share files and folders from the Google Drive website or from within the iPhone or iPad app. You cannot, however, share from your desktop at this time.

In the photo to the right, you can see that Google gives you three sharing options: public on the web, anyone with the link, or private. All three options will give you a link to share, but the link will not work if it is private unless it is shared with each student individually.

The most important thing is to make sure that they are only given access to view. Do not change this to “can edit”. This would allow them to edit and delete documents!

Click to enlarge

You can always take a look at the sharing settings for any given file or folder. In the screen shot to the left, you can see the sharing settings for the folder I share with my students. It is “Public on the Web – Anyone on the Internet can find and view.” It also gives you a few ways of sharing the link including Gmail, Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.

I also shared this folder with students directly so they have easy access to it from within their own Google Drive accounts. I shaded out their email addresses, but you can see they can only view.



Evernote is a very versatile application that lets you “capture anything”. It is capable of doing many different things, but I will focus on just using it as a way of storing and sharing files. It does not use a folder structure like the other services. Instead, you create notes. You can then attach files or pictures to these notes. If you attended our Work Flow class, Erica explained how she uses Evernote. She likes being able to write directions in the note so students know what to do with the file. Different notes can be combined to make a “notebook”. These notebooks are Evernote’s version of folders. Evernote also makes use of “tags” to help stay organized.  The free account is usually plenty for most people. They do have a premium subscription for $45/year. They also offer a 50% education discount. All you need is 3+ teachers to sign up together!

Supported Platforms: 

Free Storage: 

Evernote handles storage differently than the others. Rather than a total size limit, you are allowed to upload 60 MB total each month. (1 GB for premium subscribers)

Max File Size: 

25 MB per note (50 MB for premium subscribers)


It is possible to share entire notebooks or individual notes. You can either create a public link for anyone to access or you can share with other Evernote users. Just like with Google Drive, there are different permissions that allow others to view (which is what you want) or modify notes. The only drawback to sharing in Evernote is that the interface looks different, depending if you are using it on your laptop, the iPad app, the iPhone app, or the website.


When choosing a cloud service, consider the other teachers you work with. If you teach on a team, it makes sense for you all to use the same thing. Not only will this make it easier for students, but this will promote sharing between teachers as well. 

My recommendations

  1. If you are looking for something very simple and easy to use, start with Dropbox or Google Drive. Both offer desktop syncing and easy sharing options. 
  2. If you are looking for a lot of advanced features, give Evernote a try. 
  3. If you use Google Docs with your students, Google Drive makes the most sense. All students have been assigned Google accounts already so the iPad app gives them quick access to your stuff. Once the iPad fully supports editing of Google Docs, this will also become a powerful creation tool. 

What I currently use

I actually use all three of these services in different ways:
Dropbox: I keep all of my own stuff in Dropbox. Most of it is private, and nothing in Dropbox is shared with my students. I have used a free service called DROPitTOme to collect student work less than 75 MB in size. It automatically gets sent to your Dropbox account. This has been helpful for large files such as PowerPoints. 
Google Drive: I use Google Drive for all of my school stuff. I have folders shared with teammates and folders shared with students and parents. I create most of my handouts in Microsoft Word. I save the original file in Dropbox, but I will also save a PDF version to Google Drive. I also use Google docs, spreadsheets, and presentations quite a bit. 
Evernote: I am currently using Evernote for the first time this year, though I am not using it to push files to students. Instead, it is being used as a private test run of student portfolios. I created a notebook for each student and am adding student notes as the year goes on, including parent emails, observations, pictures of student work, etc.